IBM and Blockchain: A Supply Chain Journey

Anil Prabha

August 16, 2020

IBM has a long track record of using trailblazing technology to up its game in the world of B2B commerce, and supply chain excellence is just one feather in its cap. We recently sat down with Alan Lim, the Head of IBM’s Blockchain Center of Competency in Asia Pacific.

The questions are referring to this recent IBM blog post.

How are things with you and the company as we navigate this new normal?

A return to normal, whenever it comes, will be a different normal. What we do right now will define the future, and yet making decisions and acting with assurance has never been more challenging.

No one is shielded from the impact that it brings. But even though each day brings more uncertainties, there are definitive actions that can improve our resilience and strength.

As a 109 years old company, IBM has weathered many crises and we have a proven set of methods, tools and solutions to co-create a smarter workforce plan, with agility to serve our clients and optimize our workforce under the new ways of working.

All of this done with putting IBMers and our clients first. We continue to empower our workforce in this time of massive change as we transition back to the workplace.

During this period, our team has also been working around the clock to keep the mission-critical systems of our clients running.  This pandemic is unprecedented, but it is also a critical turning point for us all.

It’s an opportunity to develop new solutions, new ways of working, and new partnerships that will benefit businesses and customers, not just today, but for years to come.

With the ongoing global pandemic, supply chain disruptions, trade war imbalances, and now violent protests over the recent killing and shooting of African American individuals, the situation in the US must be quite precarious for businesses. What’s your take on all this? Are there any ramifications here in APAC? Or are we shielded from all this?

COVID-19 is a serious global public health crisis, with mass deaths impacting populations and disrupting economies. The protocols of protection are in themselves exacting an enormous toll: jobs lost, plans disrupted, futures put on hold.

We don’t know what the final impact will be, or when the situation will resolve, when we will get ahead of the curve, or how the world will look once we do. However, unlike other crisis in the past, we have access to digital technologies that allows societies to operate, plan and respond to this crisis in a way that past eras never could.

Companies are increasingly conducting their business operation digitally and professionals are getting used to new ways of working. Consequently, business need platforms that allows them to transact efficiently and in a trusted and secure manner.

Meanwhile, there is increased pressure on existing supply chains, as new patterns of consumer behavior develop, and sourcing needs evolve. Production lines and value chains are adapting to the disruption in the supply chain and need to be able to respond in a more timely manner.

This requires improvements in procurement systems to identify, vet and onboard new suppliers at speed to account for the changes in the supply chain.

Aside from rapid on-boarding, visibility of supplies is important, as businesses need to be able to have visibility on the supplies and excess inventory, and redirect suppliers when they need it the most to minimize waste and drive greater efficiency in the supply chain.

The new IBM Sterling Business Transaction Intelligence (BTI) Enterprise and Multi-Enterprise Editions are primed to remove supply chain blind spots and act on predictive insights from AI. Tell us more about this.

Collaboration, data sharing and insights are keys to reinventing enterprises to meet consumer expectations. Blockchain could be used as a trusted data source, offering greater transparency and the veracity of data. The ability to drive insights from trusted data source to manage businesses will drive transformation across the value chain.

IBM Sterling Business Transaction Intelligence Multi-Enterprise Edition leverages IBM Blockchain to enable a secure, shared single version of the truth for supply chain transactions. Embedded AI and machine learning power discrepancy alerts and predict completion of events to help you get ahead of supply chain disruptions and reduce late delivery inefficiencies.

Tell us how blockchain technology creates a secure, shared, single version of the truth for B2B transactions in the IBM ecosystem. Apparently, the embedded AI machine learning provides proactive discrepancy alerts and predicts the completion of events to get ahead of potential issues. Please explain this.

Blockchain technology can be used to establish a single, shared view of transactions between different parties in the value chain while preserving privacy.

In the context of a trade finance, the creation of a shared digital platform, empowers collaboration and reduces potential disputes, increases trust between participating banks and corporates.

This potentially translates to lower cost of operation and better customer experiences with faster and simpler processes. The ability to support greater access to capital is important to ensure the continuous growth and operations for small and medium enterprises across the world.

The establishment of a trusted data source could be used to derive insights and broader transformation across enterprises. In the food supply chain, blockchain helps to eliminate blind spots and improve overall supply chain visibility.

With participation across different the value-chain, the ecosystem could work collaboratively to uncover gaps in the current value chain and respond faster to events such as a food shortage due to inventory imbalances or when there is a disease outbreak.

In the case of public health, blockchain could also be used to create an open data hub to support government officials, the healthcare professionals, scientists and others to share information about the pandemic and also to detect infection hot-spots.

For example, the MiPasa initiative, is a multi-party verifiable data sharing platform. It taps into multiple data sources and is transparent while privacy preserving. Improving access to trusted data source will help professionals collaborate, harness and unlock insights that contribute to tackling the global Covid 19 pandemic.

To improve supplier on-boarding and validation, blockchain based solutions like Trust Your Supplier provides suppliers with a “digital passport”. This “digital passport” contains information about supplier’s business profile including certifications, and inventory levels.

Unlike ad-hoc and point to point validation, the process of validating a supplier is performed by the business network. This reduces the operational overhead while reducing the risk and cost to both the supplier as well as the buyer.

Finally, what do you see in your crystal ball for the future of these kinds of solutions? How will a company like yours stay ahead of the curve in this regard?

This pandemic has caused businesses to question and transform their operating models and they are also thinking about how to use technology to re-assess and re-imagine modes of consumption, supply, interaction, and productivity.

Digital transformation of business and society suddenly accelerated due to this pandemic whereby transformation journeys that were going to last a few years are now being compacted into the space of a few weeks or months.

No one can predict the future, but as businesses settle towards the new normal, the pace of digitization is expected to continue to accelerate. Changing customer expectations, pervasive inter-connectivity will drive the creation of new business platforms.

Business platforms are the basis for competitive advantage in the 21st century. They determine how quickly companies can pivot to new market opportunities, how well they can serve clients and how much they can scale and respond to crisis.

Leading business platforms are those powered by insights driven by both internal and external data with intelligent workflows and enabled professionals. These platforms thrive on an open network approach with emphasis on collaboration, insights at speed and security.

IBM is focused on bringing together technological advancement to help clients solve their toughest problems and collaborate across the ecosystem to establish market leading platforms.  Together with our partners, IBM strive to help companies maintain business continuity amid disruption and uncertainty and advance the transformation of their business.

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About the author
Anil Prabha

Editor In Chief

Anil started his career in journalism all the way back in 2003. After traversing the sphere of editorial, corporate communications and advertising, he has now come full circle and is back in the world of journalism. He believes in the power of the written word, and its ability to enthrall, delight and inform the reader.

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